DIR: Yang Lina | Dragons & Tigers | China, Hong Kong | 2013 | 98 min. | DCP
Mon, Oct 7 12:00 pm | Vancity Theatre
Director Yang Lina’s documentarian roots don’t seem far off in her fictionalize film debut Longing for the Rain. Making its North American premiere, the film follows the trials of a decidedly upper-middleclass housewife who deeply loves her family, but feels sexually unfulfilled by a husband who is seemingly more interested in his iPad than her. Perhaps not an unfamiliar story, but that’s when everything changes – with the introduction of a ghost.
Visited in her sleep by an ancient looking man, Fang Lei (Zhoa Siyuan) has her carnal desires fulfilled by this mysterious being. She cannot see him clearly, but she can feel his touch. She tries to brush it off, but it all seems so real. Is this a dream or a nightmare?
Not for the faint of heart, Longing for the Rain is explicit and portrays female sexually in a straight-faced manner. The bold depictions are refreshing, at times humorous, and often uneasy. Zhao shows great vulnerability as the sexually unfulfilled mother and wife, and the audience is taken along in her frustration, desire, and fear.
When Lei’s reoccurring visits by this mysterious being become too much to bear, she seeks out the advice of a Taoist priest who warns her of the dangers that this ghost will bring upon herself and her family. Armed with a talisman, she resolves to banish her phantom lover. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to bring her happiness. She soon pursues a second opinion, which brings the ghost back into her life. Things then proceed to take a sudden turn for the worst.
Despite the fantastical plotline, the entire look and feel of the film is very documentary. From the mundane aspects of daily life, to the visual feel of a hand-held camera, there is a lot of realism to an otherwise supernatural plot. As much a film about daily upper-middleclass life in China as it is about ghosts, Longing for the Rain explores the growing sense of ennui that such a life can produce, and the coping mechanisms that some women may find to combat it.
As most depictions of female desire in male-dominated cinema are lacking at best, I was interested to see a female director’s point of view. While erotic and female-focused, this was ultimately not so much a film about female desire, as the downfall resulting from such desire. The chaos brought upon Lei’s family as a result of her sensuality is tragic. Instead of achieving fulfillment, she is ultimately thrown down a rabbit hole of religion and the supernatural as her life spirals out of control before before her. Yang is quoted as saying, “The ghost in this film accompanied me through the years of my youth. I could not tell whether he was just my way of escaping from the real world or whether he really existed.” I was sad then to see that Lei’s ghost would bring such chaos to her life. Promising at first, she is ultimately punished for her desire. Through her eyes, ghosts are real.
I once told a close friend who was born in Hong Kong that I wasn’t afraid of ghosts. She looked at me with all seriousness and explained that she wasn’t afraid of the Western concept of ghosts either – it’s Chinese ghosts that you have to watch out for. After Longing for the Rain, I now know what she means.